On February 21st, I will head to Alpago-Piancavallo, Italy to race in the ISMF World Ski Mountaineering Championships. I will compete in four race formats – the individual race, the team race, the vertical and the sprint. This will be the pinnacle of the effort I’ve put forth over the last year.
Let me back up to late summer, 2016. This was when I got to stop breastfeeding my now 16-month-old baby which, as any mom who has breast fed knows, is a significant life change! Bittersweet, but I was happy to have my body back to myself. My boobs are small again, which makes sporting a lot easier though I’m definitely less va-va-voom if you know what I mean. It was around this time that I was ready to train hard for ski mountaineering. I reached out to my good friend and coach Mike Hagen to help me get my ass back in shape.
Here’s the thing – I have a husband who is very active and a baby, so time to train is harder to come by. It now requires some rather precise scheduling to fit it into my life and give my husband equal opportunity to train as well. Can I go ski tour everyday like I would like to? Unfortunately no, because three or four mornings of the week I’m on Penny-duty and need to train in my garage so I can watch her on a monitor. As such, my training methodology has changed quite a bit from pre-baby life. But hey! I have a beautiful daughter who I wouldn’t trade for the world so I just have to get shit done when I can and make it happen – yeah!
Knowing I didn’t have as much time as I used to, my philosophy became “Train hard and smart; not necessarily a lot”. Sounds good to me. I also wanted to approach training for the sport in a more comprehensive manner – not just focusing on my uphill fitness, but also focusing on the downhill, general strength (upper body, core and quads-o-steel, buns-o-steel), transitions, flexibility, balance and so on. I spent the fall and early winter running, skinning, finding hard crap to ski down, weight lifting, biking in my garage, stretching, doing mobility and postural strength drills, and doing transitions in my house after Penny went to bed. A lot of this training was at obscure times to fit it in whether it was 4 am or 9 pm. By December I was feeling decently fit.
The first skimo race in Colorado was in early-December at Irwin Lodge, outside of Crested Butte. This course is all backcountry – it’s more technical than most of the courses we race on. I was ready to see how my body was going to perform after some solid training. I started out too fast, got passed by two women, one of whom is a bad ass grandma (not kidding) and my spirit was deflated by the top of the first climb. “A grandma just passed me. Why am I even doing this sport?” It was a bad race, made all the worse by my crab-cake attitude. I was so bummed. Two days later there was a local race at A-Basin. At this point I was pissed off about having such a terrible showing at Irwin that I was ready to bury myself. And I did. I had a great race at A-Basin where I was able to manage my mental game much better.
A week later was the first US Qualifier in Brundage, ID. Going into this race I knew my mental game was critical. My body was ready; I just had to get my head in the game. I remember feeling so nervous – crazy, horrible, jittery awful nervous the night before the race. But that morning, when I put my skis on to warm up, I could tell I was ready to go. I felt GOOD. We kicked off the race and I was on point, passing two of my strongest competitors at the bottom of the first climb. I was in second place feeling just like you want to feel in an important race – strong and confident – boom! But on the second climb my skin came off. Oh by the way, it was -19 degrees. And when it’s that cold adhesives don’t work quite as well. I got passed. Then another came off. And then a third. This skin falling off racquet was primarily a consequence of Nikki being a dumb-dumb and not checking over her skin glue for a race this cold - amateur! By this point I was in fourth, but I kept my mantra to stay positive. After I got my shit together I said to myself, “You need to try as hard as you possibly can every moment until you cross the finish line”. And I did. I really did! On the fourth climb I caught my friend Meredith and moved into third. Then after five climbs and descents I crossed the finish line and secured my place on the US Ski Mountaineering Team to race the individual course in Italy. YES!
Then in January we had the sprint and teams race qualifier. I managed to qualify in the sprint and had a good race the next day, finishing third and securing my place for the teams race.
When I reflect on this season of skimo racing, a lot comes to mind. For one, the mental component of racing is so critical and has been hit or miss for me so far. In my estimation, it’s almost as critical as physical ability but so much harder to “train”. I have a long way to progress in this arena, but I welcome the challenge and look forward to Italy to see how I can handle it. You must stay positive, even when you’re in the back of the pack or things go wrong. There is no alternative. I will be meditating on this for the next week in a half.
Aside from the mental game, the other thing that comes up is not making excuses. So many times my head has gone to the place of dwelling on the things working against me. I say to myself, “the top women in this sport probably don’t have a kid and probably have way more flexibility than I do”. And I feel sorry for myself. Well, Nikki, you need to butch up because that type of thinking will get you absolutely no where. And realistically, almost all athletes have barriers to training. I am not alone in any capacity. Our egos like to take us to places of excuses, because it eases our reality when it’s not looking so good – but I’m determined not to do that. I want to own everything, the good and the bad. And when there’s bad I want to look at it face on and grow.
Lastly, I need to continue to strive to not take myself too seriously. It’s just skimo. It’s just sport. I’m not out there saving children or fighting cancer or doing anything that notable. I’m just running around in a spandex suit wearing skis that weigh 700 grams. This my friends is silly sport. Nonetheless it is profoundly fun sport that I’m honored to be a part of. I will try my hardest to keep up with the Euros and ideally have a smile on my face the entire time.
Go USA! Thanks for reading.